Objective: To assess the prevalence of ear, nose and throat (ENT) symptoms experienced by individuals living in Scotland, and their use of GP or hospital services for these problems.
Methods: A cross-sectional postal self-completed questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 12,100 households throughout Scotland. 15,788 individuals aged 14+ years living in the 7244 households who returned the questionnaire (adjusted response rate 64.2%) participated in the study.
Results: Roughly a fifth of respondents reported currently having hearing difficulties, including difficulty following conversations when there is background noise and hearing problems causing worry or upset; few wore a hearing aid regularly. A fifth reported noises in head or ears (tinnitus) lasting more than five minutes. In the previous year, between 13 and 18% of respondents reported persistent nasal symptoms or hayfever, 7% sneezing or voice problems and 31% had at least one episode of severe sore throat or tonsillitis. Nearly 21% of all respondents reported ever having had dizziness in which things seemed to spin around the individual; 29% unsteadiness, light-headedness or feeling faint; 13% dizziness in which the respondent seemed to move. Important gender, age, occupation and deprivation differences existed in the occurrence of these ENT symptoms. There was considerable variation in the proportion of individuals consulting their GP or being referred to hospital for different problems.
Conclusions: ENT problems occur frequently in the community, and most are managed without consulting medical services. Whilst reasonable for many problems, there are likely to be important groups in the community with ENT problems that might benefit from modern interventions.